“Natural death”

I found this 538 post on what it means to die of “natural causes” particularly interesting.  So, what is a “natural” cause of death?  Basically, anything that’s not unnatural :-):

A natural cause of death is anything that isn’t a non-natural cause of death (I know, I know, bear with me). When people kill themselves, are killed by someone else or die as the result of an accident, that’s considered non-natural. Any other cause is “natural.”

According to the latest CDC data, 2,596,993 people died in the U.S. in 2013. The vast majority of those deaths, 92.5 percent, were of natural causes. Thankfully, the data is more detailed than that, though — there are 46 categories of natural causes of death listed, as well as 44 subcategories. In the chart below, I’ve summarized the 10 natural causes responsible for the most deaths in 2013.

So, what’s likely to “naturally” do you in?  You probably won’t be too surprised to learn it’s heart disease and cancer:


That said, I was quite surprised by the leading cause of non-natural death:


Ummm, watch what you ingest. And take care of your heart.

Every day

Of course the big mass murders get lots of attention.  And I would not argue they shouldn’t (though, we really should report as little as possible about the actually killer and his supposed motivations).  That said, the real problem with guns is how many people they kill every damn day.  Today’s NYT:

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and now, a community college in Roseburg, Ore. One after another, mass shootings have horrified the nation, stoking debate about the availability of legal guns and anguish over the inability of society to keep weapons out of the hands of seething killers.

But such rampage killings are not the typical face of gun violence in America. Each day, some 30 people are victims of gun homicides, slain by rival gang members or drug dealers, trigger-happy robbers, drunken men after bar fights, frenzied family members or abusive partners. An additional 60 people a day kill themselves with guns.

That’s horrible.  The fact that so many Americans just see this is a necessary trade-off for their “2nd amendment rights” is deplorable.  Just read the following local story in the paper today:

Police say a Raleigh man shot his ex-girlfriend to death and wounded her brother before taking his own life late Tuesday at a home on Oakland Avenue in Durham.

Police say David Dietrich Holder shot Raluca Iosif at her home in the 1000 block of Oakland Avenue shortly before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. They say Holder also shot Razvaiya A. Iosif, 38, and that he remains hospitalized with injuries that do not appear to be life-threatening.

Holder and Raluca Iosif were both 40.

Razvaiya Iosif, 38, is from Romania, where his sister lived before she came to North Carolina several years ago. Raluca Iosif worked as a senior program development manager for IntraHealth International, a public health agency in Chapel Hill.

And there are probably stories like this all over the country today.  And there will be tomorrow.  Sure some people will be stabbed, poisoned, bludgeoned, etc., but the evidence is pretty much incontrovertible that more guns means more dead people.  Personally, I’m getting awfully tired of the body count at the expense of a fairly dubious “right.”

And, I should mention that the NYT story details how few of the guns in crimes were legally purchased by the criminals.  But to beat a dead horse of a point– all those illegal guns started out as legal guns and it is way to easy for legal guns to get into the wrong hands.  The fact that the NRA is entirely uninterested in changing that is among the most dispiriting of facts in this debate.

Photo of the day

Love this Fall-themed gallery at In Focus:

A red deer stag, with a female seen behind, barks in the morning sun in Richmond Park in west London on October 2, 2015. This royal park has had red and fallow deer present since 1529, and early autumn sees the rutting or breeding season begin within the herd of over 600 animals.  Toby Melville / Reuters

Map of the day

Well, who knew that “German-Americans” were America’s largest “ethnic group”?  Not me. But I sure am one.  Both my mom’s parents came over here  (separately) in the early 1930’s when they saw the writing on the wall back home.  It occurred to me, it’s actually probably not wise to share my mother’s full maiden name on the internet, but the first part was Hildegard Gertrude.  And the last was just as German.  She always said she was quite happy to get married and give it up for Greene.  Anyway, short Economist post on the German-Americans as the “silent minority”, including this map:

Least surprising headline ever

In an Oklahoma story about the abomination that is civil asset forfeiture:

Most Police Seizures of Cash Come from Blacks, Hispanics

I assume you are just as surprised as I am.

Reasonable gun policies that would make a difference

Great piece from David Frum (oh how much better the country would be if more Republicans were so reasonable– Frum and I still disagree on plenty, but the man believes in empirical reality).  Anyway, he mentions a number of policies that would surely make a meaningful dent and fall wall within the Contitutional guidelines of DC v. Heller:

There is of course no “one law” that would prevent all gun massacres, any more than there is “one law” that would eliminate all house fires, all fatal car crashes, or all smoking deaths. Yet American society has made amazing progress at enhancing citizen safety against fires, car crashes, and smoking.

So with guns.

Enforce Laws Against Prohibited Gun Buyers

Under current federal law, it is illegal for many categories of people to own firearms. Among those prohibited owners are:

But while it’s illegal for people in those categories to own firearms, the complementary duty imposed on others not to sell firearms to prohibited persons is weak and easily evaded. Federally registered firearms vendors are required to enter the prospective purchasers’ names into a federal database. If the names are not found, the vendor is clear, without any independent obligation to verify further. Guns sold at gun shows or in other private sales are not subject even to the background check rule in most states.

A convicted felon clutching a syringe and ranting about his dishonorable discharge can enter a gun dealer’s premises and—so long as his name does not appear in a database—the seller remains legally immune no matter how much objective warning he had that his customer was a prohibited possessor…

Contrast this to the laws that apply to people selling liquor. Liquor sellers have an independent legal duty not to serve intoxicated people. Liquor sellers can be sued by injured third parties if they fail in that duty.

Most gun dealers wish to sell to lawful owners. Most—but not all. In 1995, a researcher analyzed government tracing data and discovered that 1 percent of gun dealers sold 57 percent of the weapons found at crime scenes.

By holding these rogue gun dealers to account, it might be possible to significantly diminish the flow of guns into criminal hands. Instead, Congress chose to protect rogue gun dealers from scrutiny and sanction…

Require Gun Owners to Carry Liability Insurance

Guns are dangerous products. There are some 15,000 accidental shootings per year in the United States, leading to 600 accidental deaths. Buy a car, and state law requires that it be insured. Dig a swimming pool, and expect to pay hundreds of dollars a year more in homeowners’ insurance, which anybody who carries a mortgage will likewise be required to carry. Guns need not be insured, however, neither in law nor in practice.

The uninsured status of guns means that people injured by them face great difficulty recovering the costs of their medical treatment and other economic losses. Injured persons can sue a negligent gun owner and try to recover from his home insurance, if he owns a home. Most of the time, however, gunshot victims will be left to bear their economic losses on their own.

A requirement that gun owners carry insurance would not only protect potential accident victims—including gun owners, since many gun accidents are self-inflicted—against economic loss. An insurance requirement would create incentives for more responsible gun behavior…

Require Meaningful Training for Carry-Permit Holders

Certified florists in the State of Florida are required to take six weeks of courses at a cost of at least $600. They must pass a series of exams, and purchase a business  license from the state.

You might think that the power to deal death to strangers in public would be more closely supervised than the right to sell floral arrangements. You would be wrong.

Yes, yes, and yes.  No, of course there’s no single magic bullet.  But we could do so much better without taking any law-abiding citizen’s gun away.  I’d also add in some measures to limit lethality and really emphasize tracing the ownership of guns.  Of course, the gun nuts hate this as any sort of database is just the first-step to the government taking their guns away.  What it is, in reality, though, is a hugely important step in preventing legal guns from quickly and easily becoming illegal guns of the sort used in crimes.

As this great NYT Op-Ed points out, the NRA has gone to great and lengths to prevent the collection of the data that could actually help us limit gun violence:

Consider, for example, the federal law requiring licensed gun dealers to notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a single purchaser buys two or more handguns within five days. The A.T.F. knows that multiple purchases are an indicator of trafficking, and that traffickers can evade the law by making a single purchase from five, 10 or 20 different gun stores. So why doesn’t the A.T.F. crosscheck those purchases? Because Congress, under pressure from the N.R.A., prevents the federal government from keeping a centralized database that could instantly identify multiple sales. Gun sale records are instead inconveniently “archived” by the nation’s gun dealers at 60,000 separate locations — the stores or residences of the nation’s federally licensed gun dealers, with no requirement for digital records.

Rather than preventing crimes by identifying a trafficker before he sells guns to potentially lethal criminals, the A.T.F. has to wait until the police recover those guns from multiple crime scenes. Then law enforcement officials can begin the laborious process of tracing each gun from the manufacturer or importer to various middlemen, the retail seller, the original retail purchaser and one or more subsequent buyers.

Meanwhile, dealers who work with traffickers are protected by another N.R.A.-backed measure that ensures that firearms dealers do not have to maintain inventories…

Think about that: A car dealer keeps an inventory to know when cars go missing so the police can track them down as quickly as possible. Why the lack of curiosity among gun dealers? Well, gun dealers must report lost and stolen guns to the A.T.F. because large numbers of missing weapons are a red flag for trafficking. Without an inventory requirement, it’s easier to sell guns off the books.

Do most gun owners want the N.R.A. to protect criminal dealers? I doubt it…

Since the N.R.A. seems to loathe the A.T.F., one might think it would work to disband it or have its mission performed by an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with its more polished and professional public image. But the N.R.A. prefers the hobbled A.T.F. just as it is, and every year it helps ensure that Congress approves legislation banning the transfer of A.T.F. operations to any other agency.

You don’t get much more cynical than that.

Finally, Dylan Matthews has a piece in Vox basically despairing of the effectiveness of anything except an Australian style near-elimination of guns (which is obviously never going to happen).  He looks at the half-measures some states have been able to pass and concludes:

There are a few promising items there, especially when it comes to gun licensing. But taken together, this doesn’t look like an agenda that can get the US to European rates of gun deaths.

Whoa?!  What’s with European rates of gun deaths as the only meaningful standard?  Who wouldn’t love to see our rates cut literally in half.  That would be awesome!  Yet, of course, still far above rates in most advanced democracies.  With our gun culture and our gun prevalence it’s not realistic to expect us to get down to Europe’s rates.  What is realistic is to no longer have mass shootings be a common occurrence and to substantially lower gun deaths (both homicide and suicide). And we can do that with a set of policies that most Americans would likely agree are quite reasonable (you’ll never convince the gun nuts, but the “the government is coming for my guns!!” crowd is a vocal minority, but a minority nonetheless).  Time to start making this happen.

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